J. Higgins: Earning a Living, Designing a Vision
When Michael began bagpiping 20 years ago, he was in need of the accompanying elements to his bagpipe: a traditional ensemble. Research led him to a brand, made right in Lenexa, Kansas, known as J. Higgins. With two decades of communication and orders under his kilt, Michael has a celebrated relationship with this establishment he could not be more grateful for.
Original kilt ordered from J. Higgins 20 years ago, worn on St. Patrick's Day 2016
J. Higgins specializes in making "a wide assortment of products from kilts, kilt outfits, Scottish clothing and kilt accessories, to bagpipes, drums, and bagpipe supplies". The brand accommodates both custom orders and provides a variety of stock items. Either way a client orders, the reliability for quality, durable merchandise exists. This is by no act of serendipity, but rather from a calculated approach to bridging a continental gap.
How It Started:
In his twenties, founder John Higgins was at a professional crossroads. Working for someone else, he did not enjoy not being in control of outcomes, so he opted to take after his family spirit for entrepreneurship. John asked himself what he was good at and one thing popped into mind.
“I play a pretty good bagpipe,” John stated via phone interview. “I used to go to Scotland, my mom’s from Scotland, and her uncle played the pipes.” Coincidentally, when John’s family moved to Kansas City in fourth grade, his best friend’s dad played in a pipe band. This all equated to opportunity for John to explore piping.
By the time he was 19, John won first place in the US Championship for bagpiping. With all this in mind, inevitably, it would be equal parts passion and background that served as a direct path for John’s business venture. He explains it best saying, “Something in your makeup pushes you there.”
The other push for the origin of J. Higgins 33 years ago was due to a non-straightforward problem; ordering directly from Scotland took an inordinate amount of time. John knew he could offer quality products made in the US so not only a bagpiper would have access to his materials, but eventually military institutions, educational academies, and public service departments as well.
In 1983, with the purchase of the 32 stamps he could afford, John mailed 32 letters announcing the inception of his business. After four months, an order for four reeds came through. Determined or stubborn by his own definition, John saw further growth in year two, and more than that by year three. It was that year he placed an ad for a tailor and brought on two team members, one of whom is still employed with him today.
How It Works:
When asked what motivates the John Higgins brand consistently, John shares it’s the interaction with clientele. “You get the reward, the appreciation, the nice letters, the correspondence.”
John also attributes success to a dedicated work ethic saying, “Each day you have to keep coming back to work and making good on the promise. That’s why its called earning a living, you go in and earn. Hope is not a plan.”
John identifies a couple pivotal moments when he knew this business plan was on the correct course:
At a cocktail party in the 90s just prior to the Internet boom, John had a conversation with someone who was explaining how the Internet would aide in placing orders in another country perhaps and being able to facilitate that request for a purchase. Hearing this marveling idea, John realized he was already part of this “craze”, as he was receiving materials and shipping items like a bagpipe by aircraft carrier to places like Moscow.
Another momentous event for J. Higgins was when an order came in for a certain international television star known as Elmo; John found great pride in shipping that tiny kilt to 123 Sesame Street.
How It Stands:
With 30 people who sew and create the products of J. Higgins, the early need John identified for taking control of the production process is more than substantiated. John aims to continue to forge relationships for creating and explains he and his team are “always happiest when creating something new.”
At this time, John and his crew are exploring further conception of honor guard uniforms for police and fire departments, as well as school uniforms. This adds to a continuous J. Higgins theme, which is growth. According to John, “Life gives you what it gives you, each time you rededicate yourself it comes back in spades.”
As a small business owner in the United States, integrity is one thing that cannot be bought or ordered in from anywhere else. You must be diligent, dedicated, and show up everyday to fulfill the agreement for an order. J. Higgins continues to define this logic all the way to Scotland, and many other places, several times over.